Here we go again.
For the second week in a row, the Patriots will be hosting a “game of the year” in Foxboro. This time however, instead of being a potential Conference Championship matchup, it is a potential Super Bowl matchup.
After dismantling the Houston Texans on Monday night, the Patriots will be carrying a seven-game winning streak into Sunday and looking to score 30+ points for the sixth time in seven games.
Reaching that feat though should prove to be much harder than in past weeks.
The San Francisco 49ers will look to answer Tom Brady and the Patriots’ #1 ranked offense with Aldon Smith and the league’s top scoring defense. Giving up only 14.2 points per game and more than 20 only twice, the 49ers defense is the most talented and stingy defense the Patriots have had to face…by far.
The 49ers will most likely try to counter the Patriots’ prolific offense not just with their defense, but their offense as well. Averaging over 161 yards per game as a team on the ground this season, Frank Gore (1035 yards and 10 TD’s) -- along with Quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- will look to control the clock and keep the ball away from Brady and Co.
One thing that will be crucial to both teams success will be turnovers.
The Patriots have been very tough on inexperienced quarterbacks in the Belichick era and will look to find ways to confuse Colin Kaepernick and try to force him into bad decisions. The Patriots defense has made a living this year on giving up lots of yards, but forcing a ton of turnovers to overcome it.
With that being said, the Patriots have not seen a quarterback this year that has the type of skill set as Kaepernick. Not only does Kaepernick boast a 67.4 completion percentage, but he has run for 351 yards and five TD’s as well. Making only his fifth start and facing a winning team on the road for the first time, Kaepernick will need to stay under control and not try to force the issue.
On the other side of the field, Tom Brady, the quarterback with the best winning percentage in NFL history, will have to figure out a way to slow down Aldon Smith, who has league-high 19.5 sacks. The encouraging sign for the Patriots though, is they were able to contain J.J. Watt last week and have only given up 20 sacks all year. Also, the Patriots are at home which may allow them to wear down the 49ers defense a little bit with their incredibly fast paced hurry-up offense.
I have drastically underestimated the Patriots in my predictions week after week this year. After last week though—knock on wood—I am finally sold. I think the Patriots find a way to rattle Kaepernick, slow down Aldon Smith (I say “slow down”, because you’re not going to “stop” him), and beat the 49ers handily at home. I am going Patriots by 10.
P.S. If you agree or disagree, please feel free to let me know why below.
Follow Cole Stevenson on twitter: @Cole_Stevenson